Wiz Khalifa’s Blacc Hollywood is a concept album in the loosest sense, a time capsule of what it feels like to be a notable commercial rapper in 2014. Khalifa frames his idea of black superstardom with introspective glimpses behind the curtain, reminiscing about his meager beginnings and flirting with the idea of reaching the highest heights. Unfortunately, his third studio album fails to step outside of its comfort zone long enough to say anything worthwhile. Rolling Papers and O.N.I.F.C., Khalifa’s previous major-label releases, quickly became monotonous as a byproduct of a dogged commitment to brand: generic weed-based raps delivered in pitchy singsong. Blacc Hollywood follows suit, and though it tries valiantly to break character with random spurts of self-consciousness it succumbs to inflexibility.
In the wake of the success of Chicago drill, Wiz Khalifa has been interpolating steelier elements into his signature stoner rap. “We Dem Boys” employs heavy synths and drums while Khalifa emulates Chief Keef’s Auto-Tune. The modification suits his voice well, but he remains a lazy, unfocused rapper who relies entirely on clichés. Blacc Hollywood is the culmination of an artistic change that started earlier this year with the mixtape 28 grams, but as the production transforms — thanks in large part to Jim Jonsin, Metro Boomin and Detail — the content remains trite.
Khalifa wants to communicate his disdain for the fishbowl effect stardom has on black celebrities while juxtaposing his fascination with fame, but he winds up haphazardly jumbling ideas and churning out stale rap jargon. He mixes the dated “nothing to something” narrative with Khalifa staples like smoking strong, taking your ho, watching her drop it low, etc. With often-dull sonics and elementary rapping, Blacc Hollywood is far from a captivating listen, and it frequently falls into similar tropes that torpedoed past efforts.
There are two of Khalifa’s patented stoner anthems here, “KK” and “So High,” but neither manages to muster any real enthusiasm. “Raw” is materialistic just for materialism’s sake. “I got a house like Scarface’s/ Got a car that wins races/ Got some KK in the jar, know it’s raw when you taste it,” he raps. “Staying Out All Night” could’ve just as easily been a Miley Cyrus song, molly pop flirting with hip-hop.
In the brief instances where Khalifa steps outside the weed fog long enough to string together lucid thoughts, he’s far more interesting. Beneath the clichés and success buzzwords is a life-affirming message, a testament to working hard and enjoying the fruits of one’s labor. They just need better expression. In “No Gain” he raps, “Every day you wake up your destiny depends on what you do/ Sometimes I roll up when I’m stressed out, sometimes I roll two.” In “The Sleaze,” he proudly shouts, “I’m my own boss.”
But there are moments when Khalifa nearly pushes into conscious-rap territory: “They try to hold us back/ Paint a picture of us and sell it straight to the public/ You young, black? Then you thuggin’,” he raps on “House in the Hills.” It’s that sort of self-awareness that has kept him solvent for this long. But understanding and conveying are two different things. Wiz Khalifa raps in circles. A few moments of clarity might do wonders.